Developing a Text Messaging Intervention to Reduce Deliberate Self-Harm in Chinese Adolescents: Qualitative Study

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2020 Jun 11;8(6):e16963. doi: 10.2196/16963.


Background: Deliberate self-harm is common during adolescence and can have detrimental consequences for the well-being of adolescents. Although it is sometimes difficult to engage adolescents in traditional psychotherapies for deliberate self-harm, SMS text messaging has been shown to be promising for cost-effective and low-intensity interventions.

Objective: This study aimed to investigate the views of Chinese adolescents with deliberate self-harm about SMS text messaging interventions in order to develop an acceptable and culturally competent intervention for adolescents with deliberate self-harm.

Methods: Semistructured interviews were conducted with 23 adolescents who had experience with deliberate self-harm. The transcripts of the interviews were analyzed using thematic analysis.

Results: Four themes were identified: beneficial perception of receiving messages, short frequency and duration of messages, caring content in messages, and specific times for sending messages. Most of the participants perceived SMS text messaging interventions to be beneficial. The key factors that emerged for the content of the intervention included encouragement and company, feeling like a virtual friend, providing coping strategies, and individualized messages. In addition, the preferred frequency and duration of the SMS text messaging intervention were identified.

Conclusions: Our study will help in the development of a culturally appropriate SMS text messaging intervention for adolescents with deliberate self-harm. It has the potential to decrease deliberate self-harm instances by providing acceptable support for adolescents with deliberate self-harm who may be reluctant to seek face-to-face psychotherapies.

Keywords: adolescents; deliberate self-harm; mental health; qualitative research; text messaging.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • China / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Qualitative Research
  • Self-Injurious Behavior* / prevention & control
  • Text Messaging*